Indigenous People: Knowledge

In the Arctic Report Card: Update for 2019, Bering Sea elders write, "The Bering Sea is undergoing changes that have never been observed in our lifetimes, but were foreseen by our elders decades ago."

Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic have detailed knowledge of sea ice, including an understanding of ice changes that can extend scientific sea ice records prior to the 1950s. Some of these records are stored as stories and songs. The oldest Inuit Elders hold personal knowledge of sea ice trends and extreme events back to the early 1900s. In addition, they carry knowledge from community elders.

Indigenous Peoples use complex terminology and explanations for ice structures and processes; these can confirm, challenge, and augment scientific understanding. Indigenous observations can be used to confirm scientific observations, for example, from remote sensing data. Matching indigenous and scientific knowledge is a relatively new practice. Scientific observation stations and research methods are often sparse in the Arctic, while Indigenous Peoples regularly travel the ice for hundreds of kilometers (hundreds of miles) beyond their communities, and throughout much of the year. Indigenous experience can fill in missing scientific information.

For example, an Elder in Clyde River talked about traveling by dog team in the late 1920's with a hunting partner. They saw a huge iceberg in the ice, and they approached it. They traveled for two days, trying to get to the end of it, but they finally gave up. This huge iceberg could fill in some information about major calving events or ice shelf breakup. Some Inuit sing about certain years when the sea ice broke up early or late, and these songs have been passed through generations. Digging into the details of these songs and stories can be tricky—especially determining specific dates—but they are still very useful (Shari Fox, personal communication).

Last updated: 3 April 2020